Nutritionist (and pro runner) gives 6 tips on how runners should eat on race dayRebecca Addison
Are you struggling to find the right eating routine before a race? Do you end up with stomach cramps or (heaven forbid) bowel issues on race day? If you’re not running a marathon, the good thing is you don’t have to worry about fueling during the race, but attention still needs to be paid to race-day food intake, since the faster pace of a shorter race can lead to more stress for our GI tracts to handle. Here are six tips to avoid such distress and give you energy:
- Empty your stomach. One major goal of pre-race eating is to make sure that the stomach is empty for race time. You can do this by avoiding fiber, fat, and too much protein. These foods stay in your stomach the longest, and their presence may cause discomfort including stomach pain acid reflux. Now is not the time for a colorful, balanced meal with fruits and vegetables. Stick to low fiber, starchy foods such as crackers, pretzels, a banana, or bread. Adding a small amount of protein will help slow the absorption a bit so that glucose rises steadily, but won’t stay in the stomach as long as fat or fiber. For example, have a bit of peanut butter or turkey with your bread, or have a granola bar with a bit of protein.
- Find what works for you. Although nothing can mimic the nerves of a race day, practice your race day meal before a tough workout or time trial. The hormones we release when we feel nervous affect how we digest food, so be sure to practice with different meals and snacks to figure out what you can handle. Everyone is different, especially since our digestive tract can improve at doing doing its job during exercise, so novices may have to stop eating sooner before the race than more experienced runners. Once you figure out what works for you, stick with it. When you have a race-day meal, it’s one less decision you have to make on race day.
- Plan your day. How you eat will depend on what time your race is scheduled. If it’s an evening race, you can eat breakfast and lunch as you normally would, and start eating “race-friendly” foods about 4-6 hours out from your race. For example, if your race is at 7 pm, after eating a typical breakfast and lunch, you should plan to stick to easily digested foods from around 2 pm onward.
- Keep blood glucose up. If you’re someone who prefers to eat their last meal several hours out, eat a small snack of around 200 calories about 2 hours before race time. This will ensure that you don’t become hypoglycemic (low blood sugar). Carbohydrates are our body’s main source of fuel during all-out running!
- Stay well hydrated. Being dehydrated can contribute to GI distress. To ensure adequate hydration, drink a couple cups of water 1 to 1.5 hours before the warm up. This will also help with digestion. Then continue to sip on water every 10-15 minutes until the race. It should be noted that over-hydration is also a risk, and drinking too much plain water can cause our bodies to just pee out the extra fluid. Adding a bit of sodium to your hydration beverage can help your body absorb fluid better and hold onto it more effectively. Useelectrolyte packets, which will also help replenish electrolytes that are lost in high amounts when it’s very hot and humid.
- Consider caffeine. Caffeine is a well-known performance enhancer. Aim for 6 mg/kg of body weight (1 cup of coffee = about 100 mg). Caffeine intake should also be practiced before race day, since it can contribute to increased digestion. This can actually help with early morning races, when you want to get digestion going without having to wake up too early. Decaf coffee also works, since the hot liquid alone helps increase the rate of digestion.